Sunday, September 18, 2011
This post is long overdue, I know. But I needed time.
Dylan Williams, my friend, neighbor, and publisher, died last week. My wife got the phone call from Emily on Saturday. About five minutes later, I got a call from my friend Greg Means who was attending the Small Press Expo in Bethesda Maryland. He asked me if "it" was true. Rumors of Dylan's death started circulating the festival very quickly.
I prefer not to say that Dylan "passed away," but rather that he "died." Passed away implies an expectation of death and also the deceased having lived a long and full life. Dylan did accomplish a lot in a short while, but he had so much more to do and give. I know he had plans. Also, while Dylan did have cancer none of us expected it to take him so quickly. He beat it before.
I first met Dylan in 2006 at The Portland Zine Symposium... Or maybe it was Stumptown. My friend Jeremy Tiedeman introduced me or maybe I introduced myself. I knew who he was an I was inspired by the work he did. He had read my book and was kind to me. He gave me a stack of Reporters. I was humbled by his openness and generosity to someone whom he'd never met before. Soon after that I was invited to Comics Drawing night at Jesse Reklaw and Andrice Arp's house. I had just put out my first mini comic at this time so I had very little confidence to carry me through conversation and drawing on those nights. Everyone was so nice though.. Dylan would stroke Jesse's cat, Littles, over and over and over.
One night I received an email from Dylan writing to all of his friends saying that sometime in the future he might need something like a bone marrow transplant and that we should all get tested to figure out if we were a match. I didn't do this because I didn't really know him too well at the time. I wish I had. I may be totally wrong about the details but it was the first time I heard that he'd been sick.
I never really learned too much about his condition over the years because he didn't exactly offer the information up easily. Dylan's cancer was always with him and it was always on my mind. Dylan got healthier and healthier. He became vegan and gluten free. He'd do Tai Chi and stick fighting at a local martial arts gym. I'd very regularly see him running through my neighborhood. I'd usually speed run up to him and shout to scare him, hoping to get a laugh.
We never really had the long conversations I hear many people talk about having. Sometimes it'd tap out at 30 minutes. We didn't listen to the same music at all, and his adamant dislike for Kurosawa made it hart for us to truly bond over movies. But one thing's for certain, we both loved old Jack Nicholson movies like Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger and Bob Raphelson's Five Easy Pieces. We both liked Yasujiro Ozu. I got him to appreciate John Cassavetes. That was a triumph for me. How do you influence someone who has such clearly defined opinions and who has already seen everything and has decided not to see what they haven't.
Dylan was the first person and one of the only people to buy a piece of artwork from me. With my outright begging and help from his wife, Emily, he co-published a book of mine. Dylan was always a supporter and it felt good. I know he liked my first book. I'm not exactly sure what he thought about my kid's comics but he always made me want to share everything I did with him.
Dylan was an incredibly humble man. If I regret anything, I regret not talking to him more about his own comics. His comics were incredibly personal to him and I think he probably craved more dialogue with others about them. Having re-read all of his books in the past two weeks before he died I was ready to. I was ready for him to get better and right this wrong. We never got the chance.
This is the part that I'm afraid to talk about but I feel I need to. Exactly one week before Dylan died I had a dream. It was the most realistic dream I've ever had.
In my dream I was at a party and everyone was there. Dylan was there but being Dylan he had lots of friends and he was making the rounds. Famous people were there too. It was in a house and there were several levels. At one point I ended up noticing that Hayao Miyazaki was there. No, it was not Miyazaki but Charles Shulz. No, Osamu Tezuka.
I ended up talking with Maurice Sendak. Sendak was talking with me and asked where Dylan was. I said that I knew Dylan was here but he was probably making the rounds and that Sendak would have to look for him. I remember Maurice Sendak clearly, lovingly shouting, "Where's that sunuvabitch Williams? Where's that sunuvabitch Williams?" It made me laugh.
Later, during the party I ran into Dylan. Dylan was sick but he was standing with another person at the end of a hall next to a staircase that descended. I could tell he was sick because of his spirit. He asked me where "he" was. The "he" person he was referring to was the Sendak/Tezuka/Shulz/Miyazaki composite. I told Dylan that "he" wanted to meet him but that "he" couldn't find him. "Where is he Aron!? Where is he?!"
Dylan look so gravely at me. He was disappointed that I didn't bring Sendak/Shulz/Tezuka/Miyazaki to meet him. I felt that Dylan was implying that there wasn't much time left and that he'd missed his opportunity to meet this person/people. Dylan did at least seem pleased at my impression of Sendak saying, "Where's that sunuvabitch Williams..." It kind of softened the blow of not meeting those guys, I felt.
Because of Dylan's sickness I started to feel really bad for him and I went down the stairs. I started feeling really sad. The lighting was kind of dim and warm like in a bar. I went and slumped down on the ground next to an empty sofa chair. I curled up and started to cry. I tried to control it and did a little. I didn't want anyone seeing my face so I put my arm in front.
Dylan came into the room. Dylan was exactly himself and no combination of any other people. No misunderstanding. This was the real Dylan. He had been working on some drawings upstairs on large crinkly sheets of paper. He handed one off to someone sitting at a booth in front of me. It was meant for that person. He made it for them.
Next, Dylan turned and came towards me. I felt his presence and it made me feel loved. He came to me and unfolded a sheet of paper. I knew it was for me. It said my name in the corner with black pastel scribbled letters. He came to me with this sheet of paper and when I reached out for it he pulled back. He pulled back slowly and revealed that the paper was constructed to have 3-d parts coming off of it. He put his hand through the middle to reveal that it was like a hand-puppet plane. He handed it to me. I wondered if Pixar was going to do a lame movie about planes next or if it was up to me to make a lame book.
Dylan's present to me felt like a parting. I started to feel really bad. I thought how could this be a parting if he was still alive. Is it that he knows he's dying? Then I started to lift off the ground and everything started filling with a white wash. A printed program was coming into focus front and center of my field. It said on it, "Dylan Williams Memorial Service." Dylan was now dead. I knew that there was to be a coffin and service later. I started to feel really sad, because he had known he was dying and had arranged this party for everyone to be with him before it happened. So he could say goodbye.
After the dream, I woke up and immediately started sobbing and shaking. The clock read 5:26. I thought Dylan had actually died in real life. I stayed up crying all morning. I checked Facebook to see if it was true. I wrote Emily a letter saying that we'd like to visit him in the hospital if he'd let us. It was my way of asking if he was still alive. Fact was, Dylan was still alive. He was getting better even.
I got my wish to see him in the hospital. I felt like an idiot for having that dream and for freaking out. We visited him on Labor day and the hospital was eerily empty. I told him about my dream, minus the part about him dying of course. He said, "whoa!" We talked about food. We talked about my new kid's book which I gave him a copy of. I tried to talk to him about an issue of Reporter but I think I misinterpreted it. We talked about his various stages of hair and facial hair. We talked about people in their twenties trying to figure things out for themselves. I was lamenting friends who'd moved away. Friends who were instrumental at bringing people together. Friends like Dylan. But, not exactly, because I feel like Dylan could have moved away and he'd still be there.
A few days ago, when I attended Dylan's real funeral, Emily related to us a story. About how after Dylan had his last surgery, a surgery that he might not have woken up from, he woke up and told her that he had been in a place where he felt everyone's love. It was really positive. I like to imagine that this happened at the same time as my dream. That my dream was more than just my uncontrollable fear of losing my friend.
The three photos here are the only ones I have that really relate to me and Dylan. The first was taken by Sarah Oleksyk at SPX in 2007. It was a lot of fun. I dove in-between a bed and Dylan jumped on top. The second was taken by Greg Means. Alec Longstreth was in town and luckily we all could meet up. The third was taken by Dylan himself on my computer when I was reading at Powell's. His little joke that I didn't discover for a few weeks after. That's all I have.
The comics community I knew and loved has been changed forever by this and many other blows this year. It'll never be the same. I hope we can learn something from Dylan's incredible gift of connecting and communicating with people and make something new and amazing. I'm trying.
Goodbye my friend.